It’s been a while since I penned a ride report; mainly because my MTB mileage has dropped a bit recently, partly through ill-considered drinks choices on Saturday night and partly thtough a leaking rear tyre/rim on my Five’s tubeless set up.
This Sunday though, I was determined to ride.
As a result, I forced myself to stop drinking alcohol at a potentially hangover inducing BBQ by 7:00 in the evening and came prepared for the ride with a spare inner tube and plenty of tools, including a pair of pliers just in case the ‘final solution’ of an inner tube in the rear tyre needed me to remove the tubeless Stan’s valve at some point. I just had that kind of hunch that it might be needed.
Reaching Bockett’s Farm without needing to re-air the tyre was a good first step after last time out, when I’d had to abandon the ride after a couple of miles and four goes at getting the tyre to hold air. Several of our regular riders were elsewhere today (Dandy and Andy at the QECP Enduro, Tony et famile at Swinley, Karl was scouting for gnarr, Lloyd on vacation) so just seven of us set out for a Newlands classic ride – Big Al, Julian the German, DaveC, Kev, Rich and Jez, who arrived at the last moment having suffered a nasty wasp sting to the throat (must be a ninja wasp going for the jugular) en route.
Having established that nothing was swelling above or below the wound and that there were no signs of an allergic reaction we set off, comforted by the fact that Kev had an anti-septic wipe should anything really bad happen. We’re that prepared.
Summer, dry trails and reasonably fit riders inevitably leads to a brisk pace and clouds of dust marking our progress. With no signs of problems from my tyre we headed up to Polesdon and were just about to head to the Yew Trees when Dave cried Pamplona! from the back, so Kev and I quickly diverted toward Hogden Lane. A dusty descent followed, and then the fast spin up Pamplona to rejoin the Yew tress climb. This time of year it’s only the gradient you need to wory about as the mud – which usually stops us riding this – mercifully absent.
Settling into a quick spin up to Ranmore it felt like my recent road riding was paying off although I’m a long way from being fully fit. But at least I could hold a conversation with Al and Kev as we rode up.
From Ranmore we headed to badger Run and then Collarbone, our progress halted briefly when Dave broke his chain just in front of fellow Mole Jo who was walking her dog! Perfect timing! After a trailside repair from my tiny-box-of-bits(TM) we pushed on to catch the others and then pointed our bikes in the direction of Abba Zabba.
With Al opting for the Abba Zabba roll-in, the rest of us headed round the usual chicken runs, the compact group allowing us to keep a nice flowy pace through the complex, including Dave, Kev and myself (and possibly Al) all choosing the huge Blind Terror 2 roll-in by the oak tree, following by the massive roll-in to the road. Cutting across the road, the Rooty Woods supplied more entertainment, the kind that only these super dry conditions can provide, with loads of grip and plenty of line choices over the myriad of roots.
Next was Abinger Roughs, and again there was plenty of fast progress through the woods as we got into a steady groove, sweeping through dry and dusty turns on familiar trails with still no sign of problems from my rear tyre. We crossed the A25 at Gomshall and headed on, the greensand geology on this side of the hills that provides such a great base for Holmbury and Leith riding here resulting in deep energy-sapping drifts of sand and dust on the well-used bridlepaths.
Before we knew it we were at the start of the Water Lane climb up to Newlands Corner and we all settled down for the long climb. I played my joker at this point as my rear tyre finally deciding it had had enough. Despite an attempt to reinflate, Dave and I soon realised it was time to instigate the inner tube option which the others pressed on to the cafe (with Kev posting an impressively fast time). A straightforward switch to old skool technology was enacted with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of leisure (with those pliers coming in handy as expected) but eventually we joined the group for coffee and eccles cake at the top.
I’d been expecting us to head back via the North Downs Way but we were so early (thanks to the fast riding) that it seemed we had plenty of time for a detour. Not wanting to commit ourselves to a ride across the Effingham fields, nonetheless we decided to at least take in Lovely Linda on the Lovelace estate so after tramping quickly along the NDW we turned off for the Crocknorth Road.
Al lead Dave and Julian down with me just behind but it soon became clear that while the trail was dry and fast, it had changed a little from my last visit, with evidence of a big wheeled forestry machine having flattened and widened the trail. One wheel track comprised the old Lovely Linda singletrack and despite being wider than before I reined myself in a bit, not knowing what might be round the corner.
It’s probably – ultimately – a faster trail now, but the tyre tracks have put some deep indentations into the trail and there’s a couple of places where fallen logs have left sharp steps or jumps. While this sounds great, they are quite abrupt and potentially you could find yourself disappearing off the trail as you can travel a bit of distance and the trail twists and turns a bit. So caution if you’re not familiar with the route I think! I concentrated sucking up the obstacles but definitely lost time to the riders in front.
At the bottom we turned toward Honeysuckle Bottom, past the Fat Controller’s house and then took the unusual decision to climb back up onto the ridge. Knowing how quickly you can come down here I was expecting a bit of a slog, but it proved to be quite manageable provided you paced yourself and at no point was it difficult. In fact, before we knew it we were back up on Ranmore and heading along the Drover’s Road.
We detoured a bit and managed to pick up Collarbone for the run back to Ranmore but came across a nasty scene with a rider down, surrounded by paramedics and concerned friends. He was clearly in a lot of pain, on gas and air, and I really hope he is OK. It looked like the paramedics were getting ready to move him via an uncomfortable looking six wheeled off road buggy which must have been a real ordeal for him.
The worst part for me was it was in the exact same spot as my accident when I smashed my collarbone a few years back and was probably caused by a similar train of events, with the trail drifting you ever closer to the trees on the downslope of the ridge. It brought back to mind that this isn’t a trail to be hammering fast, despite looking like you can – there’s so little margin for error, something I only realised in hindsight. It was quite spooky to see someone else come to grief in exactly the same spot. My thoughts are with him for his recovery.
With little that we could do but get in the way we left it to the experts and continued on our way, but it made me feel quite sombre, and reflective that I was rather lucky to only suffer a broken collarbone. Our path was leading us to the final descent of the day, Golden Nugget which is a blast to ride but also requires some respect. The tricky bit is the off-camber middle section which wet or dry is trying to steer you off-piste.
After that we parted from Jez (heading back to Westhumble and then Dorking) while the restof us hauled ourselves through the Polesdon estate and finally back to Bockett’s as the heat of the day started to assert itself. My total for the ride was 32 miles door-to-door which was about seven miles more than I’d anticipated but brought my weekly mileage up to 136 miles for the week (albeit mainly road miles). At this rate I might start to feel fit for a change!